WENATCHEE — The city of Wenatchee has rejected the Chelan-Douglas Homelessness Steering Committee’s budget for 2019-21.
The city council instead passed a budget June 13 recommended by its staff members so it would not be in violation of state law, Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said. The changes between the two budgets moved around a little more than $120,000 in a $3 million budget, prioritizing housing and current housing providers. This is probably the first time the city council has not passed the steering committee’s recommended budget, Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay said.
“I think the recommendation of the steering committee led by certain members of the committee weren’t interested in abiding by state law and thought they should go their own way,” Kuntz said.
The difference between the two budgets is around which services should get funding, said Glen DeVries, Wenatchee Community Development director. Changes recommended by city employees included reducing funding for volunteer attorney services and taking away all funding for a tenant education program with the YWCA.
The city employees want to move funding toward housing the unsheltered homeless to be in compliance with state law, DeVries said. Unsheltered homeless are people living on the streets or in places unfit for human habitation.
In April, the city received a letter from the state Department of Commerce that said the city needed to increase resources going to unsheltered homeless or it could lose about $1 million in biennial grant funding.
The employees want to invest more money into the coordinated entry program and a landlord liaison program through the Women’s Resource Center, DeVries said.
“They’ve established this partnership with landlords and are increasing the number of landlords and the landlord management groups,” DeVries said. “Where we can get more access to more units at a very inexpensive cost.”
The city of Wenatchee operates the $3 million biennial homelessness steering committee budget for Chelan and Douglas counties as part of an interlocal agreement. The homelessness budget consists of $2 million provided by Chelan and Douglas counties.
Commissioners Marc Straub of Douglas County and Overbay of Chelan County both sit on the homelessness steering committee.
Overbay said he was surprised that the council changed the steering committee’s budget. The county and the city will be discussing their interlocal agreement in late July and the steering committee members are developing bylaws for how the committee is run.
“I don’t know how that is going to impact the relationship with the city,” Overbay said. “This is a conversation that we need to have at our meeting on July 31.”
The city council left $252,000 in the budget that was set aside for a low-income or low-barrier shelter construction project. The project received some pushback from steering committee members because it took money away from existing programs.
But county commissioners Straub and Overbay both insisted the money be included. The commissioners believe building low-income housing projects similar to one being built now by Catholic Charities south of Lincoln Park will help get people off the streets faster, Overbay said.
Kuntz disagrees because a large number of apartment units owned by private companies are going to open over the next year. Those apartments will relieve the housing burden and the homeless would be better served by programs aimed at getting them into existing housing, the mayor said.
“I think they should be in these programs and I’ve said that clearly,” Kuntz said. “But we have two county commissioners who don’t believe they should go into the programs that believe we’re going to magically build our way out of this.”
The steering committee will receive applications for the low-income or low-barrier shelter project on June 26, Kuntz said. If the city council doesn’t like any of the projects that applied for the $252,000 in funding, it can vote to move that funding back into existing programs instead.